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Data, mentoring and forums can tackle racial inequality in insurance: panel

Insider Progress panel say reformed recruitment, mentoring, data and employee forums are essential to tackling racial injustice in insurance

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Reformed recruitment, mentoring, data and employee forums are essential to tackling racial injustice in the insurance industry, according to an expert panel.

At the second Insider Progress virtual event focusing on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, a panel of insurance industry figures discussed the experiences of black people in the sector and the best ways to improve racial equality.

At a separate session during the event, Fidelis CEO Richard Brindle and assistant underwriter Keith Jernigan, who is working with the CEO on diversity and inclusion (D&I) measures, also outlined further progress made at the company since June – when Brindle pledged his company’s full support for the Black Lives Matter movement and unveiled a range of initiatives to support the cause.

The panel agreed that tracking the number of black employees within organisations and their career paths was an essential starting point.

Ingrid Woodward, head of IT and operations at CNA Hardy, said; “It’s got to be more than networking, it’s got to be more than talking, it has to be some real hardcore numbers that will track and measure.”

Ronald Reeves, head of D&I for the US, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean at AIG, agreed: “Data… shows where we have representation and where we don’t have representation.

“I am asking AIG, how do we look more inward at the talent that we have? How do we identify them? How do we begin to accelerate their development? Because when we look at their career journeys, they just haven’t been included in some of the opportunities where they could be considered for those roles.”

Andrea Santolalla, COO of Hiscox Special Risks, added that honesty around data was important.

“Organisations need to know more about the black professionals that they employ, the type of roles that they have. This is what is going to allow companies to compare against local populations and assess the level of representation,” she said.

“Once we’ve got that data, we’ve got to be committed to being transparent. This is going to be key to building and maintaining support from black employees.”

Charmaine Davis, senior vice president at Marsh, highlighted broader data on black representation at C-suite level.

“Fortune 500 recently released its last report, the 66th edition, and in 2020, we have five black CEOs, which is a little surprising. African Americans represent about 12% of [the US] population, but only 1% of the executive suite. Since 1999 there have only been 18 [black CEOs],” Davis said.

She noted there had been some historical difficulty in collecting data on employees’ or job applicants’ ethnicities due to a fear the information would be used in a discriminatory way.

“My own father had to attach his photo to his college application, and unfortunately knew that was one of the limitations that prevented him from going to some of those schools,” said Davis.

“We have to build cultures where individuals can trust that this information will be used not to divide, but to build bridges and to close the gaps.”

Isolation

David Flint, head of broking and capacity distribution at Newpoint, said black staff in the insurance market can often feel isolated.

“I’ve been in Lloyd’s insurance market for nearly 40 years. When I first joined I was the only black broker in the Lloyd’s room,” he said.

Flint recognised that progress on D&I had been made, adding that every job he had held, aside from his current role, “has been given to me by someone who wasn’t black”.

However, he added that he had faced racism during his career and having colleagues who are black or allies was important.

“I remember coming in to work and there had been a mugging or a shooting on the news,” he said. “You walk into the office; you’re the only black person walking in. Everybody looks at you. You know what the agenda is: what the strapline was in the news.”

“Where there are more black people, you feel like there is someone to talk to. It can be a very lonely experience and you can be lonely whether you’re in the post room or in the boardroom,” he added.

“Growing up in the industry, the thing you find important is for people to listen to you, who will give you the opportunity.”

Companies can make concrete efforts to improve the D&I of their workforce by going out into communities and educating young black people about the career opportunities available to them, the panel agreed.

Woodward said: “We did a session with some schoolchildren, from a mixed socio-economic background. They were all non-white. The first thing they said was ‘we didn’t think insurance was open to us’. There was this assumption that it was only open to certain types of people.”

Employee resource groups and mentoring

Davis said that the creation of employee resource groups (ERGs) for staff of different ethnicities is also a powerful tool in helping black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees feel heard, advance their careers and stay with organisations longer.

“I was one of the founders of an ERG at Marsh in response an outcry for representation across the firm,” she said.

“We formed the African American ERG with the purpose of creating a safe space for our community to speak freely. You have heard of the duality of self: that is real. We have to leave our selves at the doorstep to conform to the dominant culture in our appearance or our behaviour. Our experiences are just different and often not welcome.

“ERGs also help to establish mentorship for junior colleagues and rising colleagues for career development and advancement.”

Reeves agreed on the importance of mentorship and sponsorship of black employees as a tool to improve D&I.

“A lot of the time it’s incumbent on that new person in the industry to seek out those opportunities,” said Reeves.

“Speak up. Say ‘I want a mentor, and can you help me find a mentor?’, and be okay with saying ‘I’m not sure what I need to be mentored on but who would you recommend to mentor me?’”

Davis added that young black staff in the industry should “let your voice be heard”.

“If you find that you’re in a place that’s unfair or that’s uncomfortable, don’t make assumptions, enquire about the experiences that you’ve had so that there is further clarity,” she said.

However, she added: “On the other hand there is still the responsibility of the organisation to welcome those young folks.”

Fiona Pizzey, senior engagement, wellbeing and D&I consultant at MS Amlin, also highlighted the role of all staff in stamping out racism within a company or a marketplace.

“It’s about making our organisations anti-racist and putting that on every single person we have employed, our contractors, and even pushing it out to other stakeholders. If we’re not doing that, we’re complicit,” said Pizzey.

“It’s not good enough to be not racist anymore, we really need to be making sure that we’ve got the message loud and strong that anti-racism is what we expect in our cultures.

“Micro-aggressions can be as damaging as post-traumatic stress disorder to the individual. Whether you have black colleagues in the room or not we expect you to stand up and call [racism] out.”

To view the playback of the full Insider Progress webinar, click here.

This article was first published on the Insurance Insider website on 24 July 2020

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